Getting The End Of The World Right
Post-apocalypse films, eh? Bit of a hiding to nothing, the end of the world, isn’t it? The collapse of civilisation, fighting for food, desert wastelands, lost cities, all life wiped out except a small band of bickering survivors – I nearly topped myself after ‘The Road’ and haven’t been able to watch ‘The Walking Dead’ because I know it will be a gory soap about angry gun-toting control freaks hurting the nice sympathetic victims.
There have been high water marks in the apocalypse genre; ’28 Days Later’ and its underrated sequel were terrific, as were ‘Children of Men’, ’13 Monkeys’, ‘Time of the Wolf’, ‘Blindness’ and ‘The Last Days’. There were low points too – the travesty of Will Smith’s remake of ‘I Am Legend’, and ‘World War Z’, in which the end of the world meant being trapped in Wales (at least they got that part right).
I was never a huge fan of the original Mad Max movies but one sequence stood out – the last third of the second film, which effectively forms the basis for the entire running time of ‘Fury Road’, the fourquel – a giant race to the end of the track and back, pursued by screeching insane hordes. This time the apocalypse, the collapse of society and the rise of tribes have all been taken for granted, with water rationed out by a quasi-militia of sickly thugs, and a breeding programme of comely kidnapped specimens.
It helps that Tom Hardy is such a superb actor he can bring empathy to a near silent role, despite spending half the film with his head in a cage. It also helps that the women are not simply twentysomething screen candy but survive in all ages and types. Alex Garland’s much lower budgeted ‘Ex Machina’ was ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ for robots, a work of two halves that started intelligently and descended into a Playboy photo shoot, with the only finished robots being beautiful naked girls lasciviously photographed.
The biggest coup of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ was making action sequences (ie the whole film) believable once more. Out went all that terrible weightless CGI, in came real-looking lumps of heavy machinery toppling over with horrendous force. The film will make it hard for anyone to ever over-rely on CGI again (even though directors do, far more than you ever realise – in the seemingly real cop drama ‘Marshland’ it turned out the backgrounds were nearly all green-screened composite shots) but perhaps they’ll be more circumspect about its use now.
Post-apocalypse scenarios are always far less interesting than the actual process of societal collapse, where there is at least hope. The problem for end of the world scenarios is balancing drama with veracity. ‘Interstellar’ gave its earliest stages of global crop destruction the ring of truth, then blotted its copybook with tesseract shenanigans and unlikely scenarios (a rogue NASA waiting for its billion-dollar program to be led by a farmer, appearing via the world’s most unusual job application form, dust on a bedroom floor).
But if ‘The Road’ best suggests the world’s end, we’re in trouble. The alternative is being stuck with ‘Tomorrowland’s wide-eyed children staring awestruck at wind farms. Suggested reading on the subject is the huge tome ‘World Gone Mad: A Survivor’s Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies’ by David J Moore (who is thorough and covers world cinema, but whose tastes are resolutely trashy).
I’ve always liked the odd way in which both Nigel Kneale and John Wyndham presented their doomsday scenarios (chatty, casual, largely through conversation), so here’s a question; who has written the best or most unusual apocalyptic fiction?